Nat Torkington

Nat has chaired the O'Reilly Open Source Convention and other O'Reilly conferences for over a decade. He ran the first web server in New Zealand, co-wrote the best-selling Perl Cookbook, and was one of the founding Radar bloggers. He lives in New Zealand and consults in the Asia-Pacific region.

Four short links: 19 June 2015

Four short links: 19 June 2015

Computational Journalism, Bio Startups & Patents, Ad Blocker Wars, and The Night Watch

  1. Computational Journalism — Google awards to projects around computational journalism. Sample: The goal of the project is to automatically build topic “event threads” that will help journalists and citizens decode claims made by public figures, in order to distinguish between personal opinion, communication tools, and voluntary distortions of the reality.
  2. Editing the Software of Life — research yielding the ability to edit DNA has spawned a new set of biotech startups, and a patent morass. Zhang already holds the first of several vital and broad patents covering cas9 genome editing. Yet, Doudna and Charpentier had filed patent applications covering similar ground earlier than Zhang.
  3. Ad Blocker-Stopping Software — the evolutionary battle between ads and blockers is about to get gunpowder. As Ethan Zuckerman said, advertising is the original sin of the Internet.
  4. The Night Watch (PDF) — There is nothing funny to print when you have a misaligned memory access, because your machine is dead and there are no printers in the spirit world.
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Four short links: 18 July 2015

Four short links: 18 July 2015

WebAssembly, Generative Neural Nets, Automated Workplace, and Conversational UIs

  1. WebAssembly (Luke Wagner) — new standard, WebAssembly, that defines a portable, size- and load-time-efficient format and execution model specifically designed to serve as a compilation target for the Web. Being worked on by Mozilla, Google, Microsoft, and Apple.
  2. Inceptionism: Going Deeper into Neural Networks (Google Research) — stunningly gorgeous gallery of images made by using a deep image-classification neural net to make the picture “more.” (So, if the classifier says the pic is of a cat, randomly twiddle pixels until the image classifier says “wow, that matches `cat’ even better!”)
  3. The Automated Workplace (Ben Brown) — What happens if this process is automated using a “bot” in an environment like Slack? — repeat for all business processes. (via Matt Webb)
  4. Conversational UIs (Matt Webb) — a new medium needs a new grammar and conversational UIs are definitely a new medium. As someone whose wedding vows were exchanged on a TinyMUSH, conversational UIs are near and dear to my heart.
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Four short links: 17 June 2015

Four short links: 17 June 2015

Academic Publishing Concentration, Hardware Independence, Exception Monitoring, and Negotiating Tactics

  1. The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era (PLoSone) — Combined, the top five most prolific publishers account for more than 50% of all papers published in 2013. (via CBC)
  2. LLVM Bitcode Gives Apple Hardware Independence (Medium) — Bob [Mansfield] has been quietly building a silicon team with the skills to rival all other players in the industry. Bob works for one of 15 companies with an ARM architecture license, giving his team carte blanche to modify and extend ARM in any way they see fit. And Bob’s CPUs only have to satisfy a single customer.
  3. Github Exception Monitoring and Response — I need another word than “porn” to describe something that makes me sigh fervently with desire to achieve at that level.
  4. 31 Negotiation Tactics (Nick Kolenda) — he mysteriously omitted my power tactics of (a) crying, (b) greeting my opposite number with the wrong name, and (c) passing a napkin covered with random scrawls as I say, “what do you make of this?”
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Four short links: 16 June 2015

Four short links: 16 June 2015

Accessibility Testing, Time-Series Graphing, NO BUBBLE TO SEE HERE, and Technical Documentation

  1. axe — accessibility testing of web apps, so you can integrate accessibility testing into your continuous EVERYTHING pipeline.
  2. metrics-graphics — Mozilla Javascript library optimized for visualizing and laying out time-series data.
  3. US Tech Funding: What’s Going On? (A16Z) — deck eloquently arguing that this is no bubble.
  4. Teach Don’t Tellwhat I think good documentation is and how I think you should go about writing it. Sample common sense: This is obvious when you’re working face-to-face with someone. When you tell them how to play a C major chord on the guitar and they only produce a strangled squeak, it’s clear that you need to slow down and talk about how to press down on the strings properly. As programmers, we almost never get this kind of feedback about our documentation. We don’t see that the person on the other end of the wire is hopelessly confused and blundering around because they’re missing something we thought was obvious (but wasn’t). Teaching someone in person helps you learn to anticipate this, which will pay off (for your users) when you’re writing documentation.
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Four short links: 15 June 2015

Four short links: 15 June 2015

Streams at Scale, Molecular Programming, Formal Verification, and Deep Learning's Flaws

  1. Twitter Heron: Stream Processing at Scale (Paper a Day) — very readable summary of Apache Storm’s failings, and Heron’s improvements.
  2. Molecular Programming Projectaims to develop computer science principles for programming information-bearing molecules like DNA and RNA to create artificial biomolecular programs of similar complexity. Our long-term vision is to establish molecular programming as a subdiscipline of computer science — one that will enable a yet-to-be imagined array of applications from chemical circuitry for interacting with biological molecules to nanoscale computing and molecular robotics.
  3. The Software Analysis Workbenchprovides the ability to formally verify properties of code written in C, Java, and Cryptol. It leverages automated SAT and SMT solvers to make this process as automated as possible, and provides a scripting language, called SAW Script, to enable verification to scale up to more complex systems. “Non-commercial” license.
  4. What’s Wrong with Deep Learning? (PDF in Google Drive) — What’s missing from deep learning? 1. Theory; 2. Reasoning, structured prediction; 3. Memory, short-term/working/episodic memory; 4. Unsupervised learning that actually works. … and then ways to get those things. Caution: math ahead.
Comment: 1
Four short links: 12 June 2015

Four short links: 12 June 2015

OLAP Datastores, Timely Dataflow, Paul Ford is God, and Static Analysis

  1. pinota realtime distributed OLAP datastore, which is used at LinkedIn to deliver scalable real time analytics with low latency. It can ingest data from offline data sources (such as Hadoop and flat files) as well as online sources (such as Kafka). Pinot is designed to scale horizontally.
  2. Naiad: A Timely Dataflow System — in Timely Dataflow, the first two features are needed to execute iterative and incremental computations with low latency. The third feature makes it possible to produce consistent results, at both outputs and intermediate stages of computations, in the presence of streaming or iteration.
  3. What is Code (Paul Ford) — What the coders aren’t seeing, you have come to believe, is that the staid enterprise world that they fear isn’t the consequence of dead-eyed apathy but rather détente. Words and feels.
  4. Facebook Infer Opensourced — the static analyzer I linked to yesterday, released as open source today.
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Four short links: 11 June 2015

Four short links: 11 June 2015

Jeff Han, Google Closure, Software Verification, and Sapir-Whorf Software

  1. The Untold Story of Microsoft’s Surface Hub (FastCo) — great press placement from Microsoft, but good to hear what Jeff Han has been working on. And interesting comment on the value of manufacturing in the US: “I don’t have to send my folks over to China, so they’re happier,” Han says. “It’s faster. There’s no language, time, or culture barrier to deal with. To have my engineers go down the hallway to talk to the guys in the manufacturing line and tune the recipe? That’s just incredible.”
  2. Five Years of Google Closure (Derek Slager) — Despite the lack of popularity, a number of companies have successfully used Google Closure for their production applications. Medium, Yelp, CloudKick (acquired by Rackspace), Cue (acquired by Apple), and IMS Health (my company) all use (or have used) Google Closure to power their production applications. And, importantly, the majority of Google’s flagship applications continue to be powered by Google Closure.
  3. Moving Fast with Software Verification (Facebook) — This paper describes our experience in integrating a verification tool based on static analysis into the software development cycle at Facebook. Contains a brief description of dev and release processes at Facebook: no QA …
  4. The Death of the von Neumann ArchitectureA computer program is the direct execution of any idea. If you restrict the execution, you restrict the idea. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis for software.

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Four short links: 10 June 2015

Four short links: 10 June 2015

Product Sins, Container Satire, Dong Detection, and Evolving Code Designs

  1. The 11 Deadly Sins of Product Development (O’Reilly Radar) — they’re traps that are easy to fall into.
  2. It’s the Future — satire, but like all good satire it’s built on a rich vein of truth. Genuine guffaw funny, but Caution: Contains Rude Words.
  3. Difficulty of Dong Detection — accessible piece about how automated “inappropriate” detection remains elusive. (via Mind Hacks)
  4. Evolution of Code Design at Facebook — you may not have Facebook-scale scale problems, but if you’re having scale problems then Facebook’s evolution (not just their solutions) will interest you.
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Four short links: 9 June 2015

Four short links: 9 June 2015

Parallelising Without Coordination, AR/VR IxD, Medical Insecurity, and Online Privacy Lies

  1. The Declarative Imperative (Morning Paper) — on Dataflow. …a large class of recursive programs – all of basic Datalog – can be parallelized without any need for coordination. As a side note, this insight appears to have eluded the MapReduce community, where join is necessarily a blocking operator.
  2. Consensual Reality (Alistair Croll) — Among other things we discussed what Inbar calls his three rules for augmented reality design: 1. The content you see has to emerge from the real world and relate to it. 2. Should not distract you from the real world; must add to it. 3. Don’t use it when you don’t need it. If a film is better on the TV watch the TV.
  3. X-Rays Behaving BadlyAccording to the report, medical devices – in particular so-called picture archive and communications systems (PACS) radiologic imaging systems – are all but invisible to security monitoring systems and provide a ready platform for malware infections to lurk on hospital networks, and for malicious actors to launch attacks on other, high value IT assets. Among the revelations contained in the report: A malware infection at a TrapX customer site spread from a unmonitored PACS system to a key nurse’s workstation. The result: confidential hospital data was secreted off the network to a server hosted in Guiyang, China. Communications went out encrypted using port 443 (SSL) and were not detected by existing cyber defense software, so TrapX said it is unsure how many records may have been stolen.
  4. The Online Privacy Lie is Unraveling (TechCrunch) — The report authors’ argue it’s this sense of resignation that is resulting in data tradeoffs taking place — rather than consumers performing careful cost-benefit analysis to weigh up the pros and cons of giving up their data (as marketers try to claim). They also found that where consumers were most informed about marketing practices they were also more likely to be resigned to not being able to do anything to prevent their data being harvested. Something that didn’t make me regret clicking on a TechCrunch link.
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Four short links: 8 June 2015

Four short links: 8 June 2015

Software Psychology, Virus ID, Mobile Ads, and Complex Coupling

  1. Psychology of Software Architecture — a wonderful piece of writing, but this stood out: It comes down to behavioral economics and game theory. The license we choose modifies the economics of those who use our work.
  2. Single Blood Test to ID Every Virus You’ve Ever HadAs Elledge notes, “in this paper alone we identified more antibody/peptide interactions to viral proteins than had been identified in the previous history of all viral exploration.”
  3. Internet Users Increasingly Blocking Ads, Including on Mobiles (The Economist) — mobile networks working on ad blockers for their customers, If lots of mobile subscribers did switch it on, it would give European carriers what they have long sought: some way of charging giant American online firms for the strain those firms put on their mobile networks. Google and Facebook, say, might have to pay the likes of Deutsche Telekom and Telefónica to get on to their whitelists.
  4. Connasence (Wikipedia) — a taxonomy of (systems) coupling. Two components are connascent if a change in one would require the other to be modified in order to maintain the overall correctness of the system. (Via Ben Gracewood.)
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